Adrenal fatigue is not a straightforward diagnosis; its symptoms are nonspecific, and the condition is not well defined or researched. Though a topic of frequent discussion in alternative medicine, the condition is not accepted by many conventional medicine physicians due to the lack of reliable and conclusive research. That said, supporters of the diagnosis believe symptoms develop when the adrenal glands are stressed and cannot produce the necessary amount of hormones required to keep the body functioning normally. These slight changes have huge effects on the body but are difficult to detect with diagnostic testing.
Cortisol is one of the essential hormones produced by the adrenal glands; it plays several important roles, including converting sugar and fat into energy. If the adrenal gland produces an insufficient amount of cortisol, fatigue can result. Low energy is often one of the first signs of adrenal fatigue and can manifest in a variety of ways, including difficulty carrying out physical activities and muscle weakness that affects one’s ability to perform strenuous actions or even walk.
Exhaustion is another problem that could be caused by the body’s inability to convert sugars and fats into energy, a result supporters link to adrenal fatigue. If you get enough sleep but do not feel rested or are groggy, confused, and still tired when you wake up, adrenal fatigue or a more severe form of adrenal insufficiency called Addison’s Syndrome could be the cause. It is always bet to see a doctor if low energy or exhaustion lasts more than a few days without a clear cause.
Cortisol is also a key player in how the body reacts to stress. When cortisol levels drop, the body may have an increased stress response, leading to panic and anxiety attacks. Living with the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is often stressful, and low cortisol levels can compound any feelings of anxiety, making them difficult to overcome.
Hormones produced by the adrenal glands also help regulate the immune system. When too few of these hormones are produced, the immune system does not function as it should, especially if the person is also experiencing exhaustion and anxiety. Since the body is unable to protect itself efficiently, it is not only more susceptible to illness and infections, but it gets harder to heal, as well. Secondary conditions may also develop, making otherwise minor illnesses significantly worse.
Difficulty Falling Asleep
Difficulty falling asleep is a symptom of adrenal fatigue with a clear tie to some of the others we already mentioned. If you have a hard time falling asleep, it stands to reason that you may wake up with exhaustion and low energy. Cortisol is involved in regulating the sleep/wake cycle, and a hormonal imbalance can alter the natural rhythms of the body, leading to insomnia and interrupted sleep patterns.
Another hormone released by the adrenal glands is aldosterone, which signals the kidneys to regulate sodium and potassium. Those experiencing adrenal fatigue may deal with frequent urination, which, at best, is inconvenient and, at worst, can significantly harm the body if not addressed. Note that frequent urination can be a sign of many serious conditions, so it is important for anyone experiencing this symptom to talk to their doctor.
Adrenal insufficiency and adrenal fatigue are not the same. True adrenal insufficiency is rare and considered an official medical diagnosis. If the problem lies in the adrenal glands themselves, a doctor will diagnose Addison’s disease, but adrenal insufficiency can also stem from diseases in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, which signal the adrenal glands to produce and release necessary hormones. Proponents of adrenal fatigue as a diagnosis believe that the hormonal insufficiencies it causes are not quite as severe as with true adrenal insufficiency but cause significant symptoms nonetheless.
Is Adrenal Fatigue a Real Disease?
The lack of support for adrenal fatigue as an accepted medical diagnosis can be difficult for people experiencing nonspecific symptoms, especially if their doctor is having a hard time finding an appropriate medical diagnosis. The medical community as a whole does not support the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue, as it has not been extensively researched, and what research has been done is non-conclusive. That said, practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine are more willing to accept adrenal fatigue as a true condition.
People who accept adrenal fatigue as a condition believe that it is caused when the adrenal glands are unable to keep up with the demands of the body. Frequent illness or infection, physical stress brought on by poor nutrition or an injury, emotional or mental stress, and environmental factors like exposure to chemicals or pollutants can all cause these symptoms. Practitioners believe that, though the adrenal glands continue to function during these experiences, they are unable to do so at the level required to maintain optimal body function.
As most doctors do not support adrenal fatigue as a medical condition, getting a diagnosis can be difficult. A simple test measures the levels of adrenal hormones in the saliva, though it is not widely administered as it is generally not supported by the medical community. Results can be unreliable, as cortisol and other hormone levels fluctuate throughout the day.